Sunday, 16 August 2015

Behind the scenes in tailoring

So I've finished the book Bespoke - Savile Row ripped and smoothed by Richard Anderson. He was 17 when he first set his foot on Savile Row and Huntsman; bespoke tailors since 1849. (Don't miss the gorgeous pictures on tailoring!) He started in February 1 1982 - four days before I was born - and he's still on Savile Row but now Master Cutter for Richard Anderson Ltd.
Bespoke Richard Anderson |
He describes a different world, of cloth, cigarettes, loads of money, men and a deep, deep love for craftsmanship and quality. Needless to say, I loved the book and learned a lot about bespoke tailoring.

I thought it was the tailor that was the good of Savile Row. Turns out it's the cutter. It's the cutter that measures the client and makes the paper pattern. But it's an apprentice or someone else low on the food chain that actually cuts - or strikes - the cloth. Strange. Then the tailor (sometimes "the baster") bastes everything together, the CUTTER does the fitting, changes things like a quarter of an inch (6,35 mm)! here and an eighth of an inch (3,175 mm)! there, then the apprentice rips up all the basting and the tailor sews again. Fitting - alterations - sewing - pressing - fitting - and hopefully done.

Bespoke really is far from ready-to-wear. The ideal is at least eight weeks between your first appointment and when you actually want to wear it - although there are numerous stories on clothes taking several years from start to finish; sometimes depending on the cutter's unwillingness to finish a garment, sometimes a stubborn client (those two often seems to correlate). Suddenly it doesn't sound so strange that it took me a couple of years to make both my Dior jacket and winter coat. On the others hand, a suit or jacket from Savile Row lasts a lifetime.

Bespoke tailoring is really all about the hand and the eye. Anderson uses the Thorntonian system to draft the pattern:
halve your depth of scye... come up two inches to account for the inlay... add three-eights here for your waist seams
but says it's only half the job. Then you need to take into the account the slightly lower right shoulder, the arch of the back, the posture... Only the straight seams are made on machine, the rest by hand. You never set in a sleeve by machine on Savile Row! Late in the book, Anderson gets upset by a company claiming to make bespoke suits:
Some 'bespoke' houses put their sleeves and shoulders in by machine, which can compromise a garment's longevity; some fuse their chest canvas with a synthetic adhesion that (unlike padding inserted by hand) does not mould as well to the wearer's body and over time can cause unsightly corrugation in the lapel, some, like Sartoriani, do not even cut unique patterns.
Although the tailoring world described by Anderson in the book is a very male one, a look at their websites today proves that the world - thankfully - is changing, since there are quite a few young women working there now. But female clients are rare, although Katharine Hepburn is one example - and the woman who wore the red coat by Hardy Amies I saw at the Clothworker's Centre back in February.

The book ends with a glossary of tailoring (and non-tailoring) words. Flash basting is my favourite: "Superfluous basting stitches put into a garment at the fitting stage (or for display in a shop window or website photograph) to impress the customer." Nah, it's not all about the eye and the hand - it's about putting on a show as well.

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